During World War I, Carl Brigham wrote a test to study American Intelligence. The test asked soldiers to solve puzzles, decode symbols and complete mazes. The results of the study were included in his book, A Study of American Intelligence. In the book, Brigham outlines his conclusion determining that white people of English, Scottish and Dutch descent were the smartest. The bottom of his scale included people of African decent and immigrants from Poland and Italy. The study ignored that many of the test takers did not speak English. It also ignored the premise that different ethnicities during this time were provided alternate methods of education.
Around the same time, A Study of American Intelligence was published. Brigham wrote another test to determine the intelligence of prospective college students. This test was called the Scholastic Aptitude Test, better known today as the SAT, or the test that nearly 2 million high school juniors rely on to get into the college of their choice.
As times have changed, standardized testing in the United States has changed with them. Thirty years after the original test was written, more and more people were applying for higher education. America needed an alternate form of testing, different from the SAT. This prompted the creation of American College Testing, the ACT. The ACT has remained the biggest rival to the SAT to this day.
Both tests’ purpose is to determine college readiness in students entering college. They are also meant to provide ways for college admissions teams to rank students who come from different schools with alternating GPA scales.
According to Forbes writer, Nick Morrison, “GPAs are five times stronger than ACT scores in predicting graduation rates.”
“GPA measures a very wide variety of skills and behaviors that are needed for success in college, where students will encounter widely varying content and expectations,” said Elaine M. Allensworth, director of the University of Chicago Consortium on School Research.
GPAs indicate skills students will need in college. Simple skills, like turning in assignments on time and reaching out to teachers. GPAs measure a student’s hard work over a four-year period of time, while standardized testing measures how hard a student worked for only one test in their entire high school career.
But Americans are committed to the idea that standardized tests better align with America’s meritocratic belief, that those who work the hardest will reap the greatest benefits. Their belief in this ideal in produces nearly 1.1 billion in revenue each year for the College Board, the company that produces the SAT.
The consumerism of standardized testing does not stop at consumers giving the College Board their money. Many parents will pay top dollar for their kids to get tutoring to prepare for the test, indirectly hurting families who can not afford expensive tutoring.
According to the Washington Post, in 2014, “Students from families earning more than $200,000 a year average a combined score of 1714, while students from families earning under $20,000 a year average a combined score of 1326.”
During the pandemic many students did not have an opprotunity to find a test sight. Thus, there was no way to test every applicant, as most test centers will hold hundred of students at one time. This forced 1,600 schools to go test optional and 68 others to go test blind.
Students that had the grades but not the test scores to apply to top schools suddenly had a chance to get in. This opportunity increased application numbers substantially for top tier schools. Harvard received more that 57,000 freshman applications, an increase of 42% from the year prior.
The majority of schools are staying test optional for the Class of 2022 and have not announced their plans surrounding testing moving forward.
The UC System, however, released a plan to phase out the SAT/ACT requirements entirely by 2025. The classes of 2022, 2023 and 2024 will be test blind, and the class of 2025 will have to take an entrance exam curated by the UC system themselves.
The UC school system houses some of the best school in the nation and many lower tear schools are expected to follow in their footsteps.
American school systems have been relying on the same test to predict student’s success in college for nearly a hundred years. The aftermath of the global pandemic has many schools rethinking what these tests actually evaluate and if they should continue utilizing them in the future.